Pope Francis lamented Wednesday that many couples are choosing to have pets over children, saying that a trend of forgoing child-rearing “takes some of our humanity away.”
“Today … we see a form of selfishness,” the pope said, according to translations in multiple reports. “We see that some people do not want to have a child.”
Or, he said, they may have one or two kids — “but they have dogs and cats that take the place of children.”
Countries around the world, including the United States, have been reporting annual drops in birthrates in recent years. Population powerhouses in the developing world are also posting low growth. In 2020, data from Indian authorities indicates, the country’s fertility dropped below “replacement rate,” needed to maintain a stable population over time. In China, three decades of stringent family-planning policies have left the country’s birthrates plummeting.
The pope, who has called for the adoption process to become easier, said people who do not have children “are lacking something, something fundamental, something important.” And he cautioned that countries may soon be forced to grapple with the consequences of lower birthrates — such as lower tax revenue and shrinking economies.
The pope’s remarks drew criticism from many on social media who insisted that having children is a personal choice. Dana Nessel, Michigan’s attorney general, referenced her experience with the foster care system, tweeting that having kids out of a feeling of obligation can lead to “terrible outcomes for both the kids & parents.”
Having done a great deal of work with the foster care system, I can tell you nothing is more “selfish” than having kids you don’t want just bc the Pope thinks you should. Your children will know they weren’t wanted, and it leads to terrible outcomes for both the kids & parents. https://t.co/YhM4j0Kevr— Dana Nessel (@dananessel) January 6, 2022
From Michael Coren, who is an Anglican priest, author and a columnist:
1)#PopeFrancis took the name of the patron saint of animals.— Reverend Michael Coren (@michaelcoren) January 6, 2022
2)Having children is a choice, not an obligation.
3)Catholic opposition to birth control and abortion rights doesn't lead to loving families.
4)This is yet another issue that Jesus never mentioned. https://t.co/XiyUUPvsZC
And many noted that Catholic priests themselves are not permitted to marry or have children.
Wednesday’s address was not the first time the pope has spoken out against the preference for some smaller households to have more pets. He voiced his concerns as early as 2014, when he celebrated daily mass alongside 15 couples. Even then, the pope told the couples not to substitute children with house pets.
“It might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or not? Have you seen it?” Pope Francis said, according to Religion News Service. “Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.”
And last month, the pontiff warned that Italy’s declining number of births, which reached its nadir since the 1860s, may threaten the country’s future, Reuters reported.
The 85-year-old leader of the Catholic Church has largely been seen as a liberal figure, making numerous statements that have raised the eyebrows of the Church’s more hard-line members.
For instance, the pontiff bucked calls from conservative Catholic bishops and reportedly said last year that President Biden, who supports abortion rights, should be allowed to continue to receive Communion.
While the pope is not known to keep a personal pet, he has been photographed in the past interacting with animals including a lamb, dogs and a tiger.